When the Ravens regained control of the ball Sunday down five points midway through the fourth quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco might as well have met the moment with a shrug.
After all, once you have rallied your team past a top-seeded team in double overtime during the divisional round of the playoffs and gone on to seal a Super Bowl victory with a key drive that led to a field goal, what’s another do-or-die situation at M&T Bank Stadium in early December?
In the frenzied final moments of Sunday’s 29-26 win, Flacco steered the Ravens down the field for the go-ahead touchdown, and after they traded touchdowns with the Minnesota Vikings, Flacco led them on the 18th game-winning drive in either the fourth quarter or overtime of his career and his third this season.
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Just another day at the office for Flacco, who has become one of the NFL’s clutchest quarterbacks.
“I think we’ve had so much experience in tight games, and in big, meaningful games, that when we do get in situations where we have to play well down in the crunch time, the situation isn’t too big for us,” Flacco said. “We’re able to relax and just play football as we always would, whereas if you’re not in those situations a lot and you start to think about the consequences of what happens if you don’t do what you should do, that’s when the situation can get too big and can overwhelm some people.”
Flacco has been erratic this season, throwing 18 touchdown passes to go with his career-high 17 interceptions. But, more often than not, Flacco has risen to the occasion in the fourth quarter.
Flacco has thrown for more yards (913) and touchdowns (eight) in the fourth quarter than he has in any other. He has a higher completion percentage (66.1) and a better quarterback rating (91.7) in the fourth quarter, too.
So why has Flacco usually performed better and put up bigger numbers late in games?
“I don’t know,” Flacco said. “We’ve put ourselves in a lot of situations in the fourth quarter to have to come back on teams and have to play well to win football games. We’ve probably spent a lot of time feeling games out, and then all the sudden gotten ourselves into situations where we just have to let it go and see what happens.”
Sunday’s win was the 61st of his career, giving him the most career wins by a starting quarterback in his first six seasons in the NFL. The previous mark was held by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who won 60 from 2004 through 2009.
The milestone understandably went unnoticed in the aftermath of Sunday’s wild win, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said Friday that it wasn't accomplished by accident.
“He hasn’t been lucky,” Caldwell said. “I think what you see is a real highly-competitive guy that has the ability when things are on the line to get focused. The game doesn’t ever get too big for him and he certainly knows how to move the ball down the field under some very, very difficult circumstances.”